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How Close Should You Sit? 

My son took me to see Captain Cartagus Candoo & His Trash Canned Treasures, an evening of "Puppets, Pirates and Pandemonium," and made me sit up front. I never sit up front and, in this case, it looked triply dangerous because the whole set was made of trash, including a 10-foot wall that looked ready to come down just where I sat. Sure enough, two dancers clad in fabulously sad Pierrot-like supertrash came pirouetting out of the garbage wall. They brushed past me, rustling squashed cans, torn bus tickets and crumpled cig packs, quite elegant in some urban-detritus kind of way. It wouldn't be long now before things turned participatory.

Ah, well. I remember a time when there wasn't any safe place in the theater. I've had one of my first frissons de hip at a Living Theatre show at the Fillmore East in New York when the actors asked the audience to burn their money and passports and to get naked. Having just gotten some kind of tenuous resident visa to the United States, I was reluctant to burn any form of ID and I only had about five dollars to last the week. I was very happy, though, to see other people burn theirs, and I enjoyed watching everybody take their clothes off, particularly the girls. But I sat way in the back, just in case they were going to listen to this crazy guy who kept shouting, "Burn down the theater!"

At about this same time, I saw a play directed by Sam Shepard at St. Mark's Church, and it involved some kind of unpleasant confrontation where actors would sit frowning in peoples' laps screaming political things. I got out of there quick. For a while, you couldn't go to any play downtown without having some angry actor get in your face about something. Later, it was the early '70s in San Francisco and life was a Carnival. You were either on the bus or off the bus, and you couldn't be on the street without being asked to participate in some kind of drama involving bums, drag queens, police, street musicians, clowns, religious visionaries, serial killers and messengers from outer space. The Angels of Light and the Cockettes patrolled to make sure that everyone got to party. There was no back seat if you went out. I liked that.

Then it was the '70s and I was thrilled to be up front at the Sex Pistols' last concert, in San Francisco. I figured out pretty quickly why there was room up front: I still have the spit-and-beer stiffened T-shirt I wore, and I'm not surprised the punks disbanded. The mystery is how they got together in the first place.

The trash Pierrots opened Pandora's box and a burst of feathers rained on me and then Captain Cartagus asked everyone to be in his Kazorchestra and outfitted the whole audience with kazoos, and everybody made fun noises and danced. That was nice, and then I read in the program that all the garbage used to make the fab costumes and the wall had been "sanitized" and "insanitized," and that made me feel a lot better about sitting up front in the 21st century.


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